The Dynamics Of Corruption


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The Dynamics of Corruption



Kyari Tijani



culled from GUARDIAN, April 3, 2005



The myriads of advisers hanging around President Obasanjo must be cracking their brains over what have they not done right if they consider the numerous vitriolic attacks their boss is suffering daily over the pages of newspapers, but more seriously in verbal discussions and arguments all over the country. On this account, a visitor to Nigeria would quite easily conclude that President Obasanjo must be the most unpopular leader Nigeria ever had.


But this would be quite uncharitable. What the advisers did not do, and why President Obasanjo is unpopular, and I will now give them this as a free consultancy service both to serve my country, and if they so accept to save all of us a lot of suffering, is that they did not undertake a study of the Dynamics and Anatomy of Corruption, especially afflicting the two biggest and most important utilities in this country, notably NEPA and NITEL, and for a kind of comparison, I will add the Water Corporations. For, how they performed or fail to perform affects the very essence of existence, and therefore the popularity or unpopularity of our leaders.


That these utilities, inspite of their criticality to our daily lives, recorded abysmal failure since they were established, nobody can deny. And that their serviceability waned, especially more astronomically, as we kept on marching into the 21st century too, nobody can deny. That as they kept on declining, they kept on guzzling more money than ever before is also completely undeniable. That this President who is now taking all the barbs, has himself injected a whopping N300 billion into NEPA alone without any discernible improvement is also on record. In fact, a decline from generating 4500mw to 1500mw a day marched by similarly graduated power outages is a pain all Nigerians had suffered. Somebody must carry the can. There is nobody so obvious and indeed more deserving than the President!


But that is not the main consideration. The main consideration is that we must understand the dynamics of this tragedy scientifically, so that by applying scientific knowledge, we can stop the sliding trend and even reverse it. In fact, there is no alternative to reversing it! You may say it is quite hackneyed, indeed quite trite to go to a theory of corruption for explaining such an unfathomable phenomenon and expecting to turn around NEPA and NITEL. Who does not know the debilitating effect of corruption? Where is it that corruption does not exist in Nigeria? Is it today that we are blaming all our woes in Nigeria on corruption?

No, corruption is everywhere in Nigeria. But the dynamics of corruption differs from organization to organization, depending on so many variables. One thing that is quite commonly known is that corruption flourishes "as the gate narrows", as somebody has said: meaning, the less the product; the more the consumers, the narrower the "gate" and the higher the prospect for corruption. Men must get what they hunger for. The dynamics of corruption is as simple as that! In Nigeria, the "gate" is ever narrowing since Independence in 1960. Even the landmass available to us is depleting; not only in size, but also in usability. Of the total landmass area of 923, 768km2 the rain forests constitute a mere two per cent and is depleting at a rate of 3.5 per cent annually. It will be completely depleted by 2020 if nothing is done. Bush burning is eating up the Savannahs. Desertification, even more alarmingly, has already eaten up the far North of about 351, 000km2 and is rushing on southwards at 0.6km per annum. Fifty-five percent of Borno State landmass is already under the desert (UNDP/Nigeria Country Assessment 2000).


Against this, you place the fact that the Nigerian population of 88.99 million in 1991, had reached 115.2 million by 2000. Now it is being claimed to be about 130 million. Thus the "gate" is quite obviously narrowing, if you consider population to land size ratio. Land as they say, mean different thing to different people. This is because men need land for so many different things. Mallam Nasir El-Rufai's bewilderment in Abuja since he took over the affairs of FCT tells us enough about the dynamics of corruption in land matters.


Scarcity is therefore the major facilitator of corruption. To all the three (3) utilities we have mentioned above scarcity is a common denominator and in all of them the Nigerian public is facing a veritable trap the corrupt can use. NEPA, which had peaked at generating 4500mw per day at one time, had precipitously dropped to generating only 1500mw a day today. Thus, some States and townships spend days before power comes back to them. Governors are now begging NEPA officials for little mercies on behalf of their States and people. All concerned in the tripartide (NEPA, people, government) in which NEPA rules, know that "egunje" is the only lubricant.


NITEL, was never designed to do better. Offering fixed line service of only 700, 000 as installed capacity, of which only 500, 000 lines are ever operational, NITEL has never served the country of nearly 1.0mil km2 and a population rapidly moving towards 150 million, well. That it was allowed to exist as it is, is the most glaring example of leadership failure, the cumulative effect of which is now threatening to put us at the bottom of even the least developed countries. You may wish to apply a cost/benefit analysis at any stage of NITEL's existance and you cannot justify its continued existence. With only 500, 000 lines ever operational for a population of over 120 million in a country the size of Nigeria, anybody can see that conducive environment for corruption has been created.


But with NITEL, corruption is not only at the point of getting a service line. It is only the beginning of corruption. Corruption gets more sustained and more vicious after you have got the service line. Permit me to give you my personal experience. When I moved from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, to University of Maiduguri, I was allocated a house on campus that already has a telephone line number 234096. After observing the desultory service of this line and having been convinced that I can never expect continuous service with only one line available to me, I decided to get a second line, number 342089. My hope was that if one line does not work at any point in time, one will be working. So, at my own extra cost, no thanks to the efficiency of NITEL, I can get continuous telephone service. I was wrong!

On 23rd March 1998, I was forced to address a letter to the Territorial Controller of NITEL Plc. Maiduguri, under the headline REPAIRS OF TELEPHONE. I reproduce the letter in-toto here because it so graphically represents what every subscriber of NITEL must be suffering in Nigeria. I wrote:


Dear Territorial Controller,
I own telephone numbers 234096 and 342089. I acquired 342089 simply because 234096 never worked satisfactorily. In fact, there was never any two straight months in which any one of them worked continuously. Even with both of them installed in my house (No. Q1, University of Maiduguri campus) the fact is that most of the time I have no phone.

2. Now, I am travelling out of the country for an extended period. Both my telephones are not working.

3. I will be grateful if you can attend to both of them immediately.


One of the reasons for the privatization of NITEL (with which, as a policy, I have problem) is that NITEL "was simply neither responsive to its customers nor proactive in terms of its market outlook" (El-Rufai, Daily Trust, 1 March 2005; p.40). Up to today, my line 342089 is not working, and I have made report not less than twenty (20) times, at one time to an incoming Territorial Controller and an outgoing one, together, whom I met them by chance. No dice! And no explanation. Why is this so?
My answer is that corrupt and inefficient as they all are (and corruption and inefficiency feed on each other), mass pressure operates differently on each of these public utilities. NEPA characteristically delivers its services to groups of people - in townships; regions, even the entire country, usually from a central location. Thus, characteristically, NEPA service unit and/or unit of administration is called NEPA district. When NEPA fails, it always affects a whole lot of people - among whom the rich, the mighty and the ordinary. Invariably, all of this will approach NEPA in their respective ways, but the one NEPA fears most is a mass march against NEPA offices and installations, which has become quite frequent nowadays. In Maiduguri once the masses marched to Zannah Bukar Umaru Mandara's house and threatened that they will march on to NEPA unless he does something about it! Zannah Bukar Umaru Mandara is a popular businessman in town, and he is usually regarded as a philanthropist.

Another variant of mass pressure on NEPA is from the vitriolic pens of columnists and newspaper editors. In the last fourteen day period between 27th February to 13th March 2005 the powerful mass media platform of the daily tabloids were used to tirade against NEPA to make it come back from its dangerous slide backwards. In the issue of the Leadership newspaper of 27th February 2005, the powerful communicator and avowed advocate Comrade Sam Nda-Isaiah, wrote a punchy exposition of the failure of NEPA in his back page column, under the simple and stark title, NEPA! The Daily Trust, which can now be regarded the voice; if not the paper of the North, wrote a mild but devastating Editorial against NEPA, under the title, BOOSTING POWER SUPPLY in which it did not hesitate to indict NEPA for putting the nation to shame by plunging even Aso Rock (seat of power) into darkness! The Daily Sun of 3rd March 2005, which prides itself as the King of the Nigerian tabloids, wrote in its Editorial quite disparagingly, saying " for nearly five (5) months now, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), literally slipped into coma, throwing Nigerians into darkness".


This Day of 3rd March 2005, paraded on its must read back page column of Olusegun Adeniyi, who chose to downplay we Nigerians intense frustration with NEPA by transcribing the acronym NEPA to No Electric Power Again when people usually say No Electric Power Always! More directly, Saturday Sun of March 12, 2005 reported: "Mushin residents storm NEPA office over power outage" (p.12). Not unexpectedly, Saturday Tribune of 12th March 2005, reported a conciliatory NEPA policy: "NEPA targets grassroots" (p.4). thus, no matter the rendition, all this would not but bring considerable mass pressure on NEPA and its officials; rank and file.


Nothing like this is ever brought upon to bear on NITEL. At any time, NITEL supplies its service directly to the individual subscriber through one respective flex of wire. Thus, if your phone goes dead - too bad! Nobody will know. Nobody will join you in your travail! Your usual contacts will even blame you for tardiness. And, of course, NITEL will exact the maximum from you if you want your phone back! Corruption is corruption anywhere, but obviously, in depth, spread and rapacity it more signifies its presence in NITEL than in NEPA!

To prove the point, we will take the example of another utility providing even more critical service than NEPA or NITEL - the Water Corporations or Water Boards. Like NEPA, this utility serves districts and townships. But the Water Corporations never had the stranglehold NEPA had on people - much less NITEL. There was no time ever the entire Nigerian people expected to be served by pipe-borne water. Even in the most sophisticated townships only some specialised areas are so favoured. Most people buy water from water carriers. And, as invariably the case, these unfortunates are always from the poorest of the poor. They can never be able to fix their own price. The cost of water therefore really never goes through the roof. In any case, people are willing to; indeed do drink from rivers, lakes or ponds, and usually dig their own wells. Therefore, the Water Corporation can never narrow the gate of supply as much as these other utilities can, and do.


As it can now be seen, bribery and corruption is never really a simple matter of asking and giving. It's a matter of magnitude and longitude - what pressure the corrupt can exert, which is a function of how narrow is the gate, how resistant the victim is which is a function of the indispensability of the service. These are the precise conditions under which corruption operates, and which give bribery and corruption their own dynamics and anatomical character, depending on these conditions. President advisers should know this, and arm themselves accordingly.

Nigerians need and deserve steady and uninterrupted power supply; cheap and accessible telephone service; potable pipe-borne water, as everybody else anywhere in the world does. As the public utilities have proven themselves impervious to our pleadings, public policies ranging from privatization and deregulation have unremittingly progressed hoping to bring us succour, without success. We are countering this with private policies such as digging our own well or installing our own generator. These will never do. Apart from indicating that this is a complete collapse of the social contact between us and our government, all of these antics will only mire us in further difficulties and suffering.


Deregulation and privatization have come to be seen as the cure-all solution ever since Adam Smith (1723-1790), that prophet-founder of modern economic statecraft, had come to decree the position that the government has no business going beyond the concerns of "justice, police, revenue and arms". As the dynamics and potency of deregulation and privatization are never going beyond serving the God of Money, I do not see how Nigerians will benefit from privatization per se. Even if we will, certainly not with the service of the present stock of personnel - from manager to janitor - remaining in charge. So, from both patriotic point of view, and self-interest we must shout, "Buyer, beware"! As for buying your own generator, or digging your own well; these can never be the solution. Opting out of government, which these efforts signify, will never solve any problem.


As for our travail under the tyranny of NITEL, salvation has come to us from an entirely exogenous source - technological development from outside. Technological development has now put a handset into the hands of an even the moderately rich Nigerian, and he is enjoying an infinitely better and more flexible service from his GSM operators. But this too cannot be a solution of our first choice. It is too expensive. Our fixed line must work under whatever arrangement. We must realise that the present circumstance we are in is nothing less than extreme national crisis. We must overcome this by whatever means, including throwing out all of NITEL, the equipment and the entire crew, bringing the Chinese to work for us!

Some of us do not believe that handing over our national heirloom to individuals under the name of privatization will solve our problem. But now that the actions and inactions of the inept, and corrupt Nigerian State has allowed privatization to emerge as the only immediate solution, so be it. But, we must admit that even privatization cannot overcome the desultoriness of decades, which inefficiency and corruption had induced, and which had now become a self-serving game throughout the utilities. Neither seller nor buyer can benefit from privatization. So, in the name of God; patriotism and Mother Country Nigeria - let us think again!
As the privatization ferver rages on, we must also devise our own self-defence and interest-promoting measures. We must, village-by-village; township-by-township; community by community, organize Town Hall meetings and articulate, present and promote our interests against whatever utility concerned. This is going to be a non-political citizens' meeting. As those in power today are suspicious of any meeting at all we will allow the Public Relations Division of the Police to be part of the meeting, and together, we all press our conclusions for actualization. This will serve the Public Relations need of the police better than the Public Relations Officers of the Police sitting in their darkened offices, fondling their guns, and yelling at the masses through megaphones, as they presently do.


But the first, and most immediate thing that need doing is for our Presidential aides and security agents to realize that unless they understand the dynamics of inefficiency and corruption and face it in appropriate measure wherever it exists, and also stand with us to face the cankerworm frontally, their boss will always be unpopular, and our country will remain the laughing stock in the comity of nations.


Professor Tijani is with the Department of Public Administration, University of Maiduguri.



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